Monday, November 28, 2011

I Was Granted Unemployment Compensation: Does That Mean I Have a Case?

A lot of calls I receive from potential clients stems from the State of Wisconsin granting their claim for unemployment benefits.  A lot of recently-unemployed people jump to the conclusion or infer that this means the State has found some wrong-doing or unlawfulness regarding their termination, which is not the case and I then spend a considerable amount of time explaining to people why a grant of unemployment insurance does not mean their termination was necessarily unlawful.

The Standard for Receiving Unemployment Insurance is Different from a Determination of Discrimination, etc.

A determination for granting and issuing unemployment insurance is completely and utterly different from a finding of discrimination or a wrongful termination.  Wisconsin first finds out whether the person was terminated or quit and then the standard is either "misconduct connected to their employment," or "good cause attributable to the employer."  A finding for discrimination or wrongful termination has a completely different standard and burden of proof by a plaintiff and there's actually case law that forbids the use of unemployment compensation decisions in discrimination claims.

Employment claims, for the most part, use what we call "burden-shifting schemes," which is a framework used to determine whether a plaintiff/complainant was discriminated against.  A burden-shifting scheme is simply how a case is proven in a hearing or court by the parties to show that discrimination did or did not occur.  Cases are also proven either directly or indirectly (circumstantially) whereas unemployment cases do not have burden-shifting schemes and decisions by Administrative Law Judges (ALJ) are made through evidence presented by the employer (direct evidence) and the credibility of the witnesses.  An employment discrimination case can take one to several days to litigate whereas an unemployment case takes minutes to a few hours to litigate because they're not as complex.

Obtaining Unemployment Benefits is Just a Start

Just because receiving unemployment benefits provides almost no insight into the viability of a discrimination or wrongful termination claim does not mean you should not contact a local employment attorney to discuss your situation.  Often times it is helpful for an attorney to represent a claimant at an unemployment hearing because it gives us an opportunity to ask certain questions of the former employer and to get testimony under oath and on the record regarding a termination or quit.  Obtaining unemployment benefits also means that a claimant was either fired and did not engage in misconduct or quit for good cause attributable to the employer which may help in a subsequent discrimination claim.

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